Written by Staff Writer by Jamal Halaby, CNN Brazil, Written by Martin Steichen, CNN Written by Anna Vidot, CNN Written by Jeanna Bryner, CNN
As the iconic street party Zentral Brasil de Rio Grande begins on Saturday, police will quickly step in to control a surging crowd that will have gathered in the streets. However, a new development in the city may require the police to make another decision: When to let in even the largest of crowd?
On Friday night, an empty ramp was temporarily filled with high school marching bands from around the state of Rio Grande do Sul, as they made their way to the city’s Copacabana Beach. With authorities expecting upwards of two million people to gather along the massive promenade to watch the parade, a portion of the ramp gave way, sending dozens of teenagers — along with some of the bands — into the Rio’s Engenhao river.
Just under 60 minutes before the event was to begin, the ramp collapsed, sending the teenagers surging into the water.
“There is a small water level at this time of year because it is a public holiday, people are in a good mood, everyone wants to be part of the fun,” says Felipe Torreira, a Rio police spokeswoman.
“It is normal for the stadium to be filled,” she continues. “So, we just decided to open the ramp. For the security of everyone, we did not see the big increase of the crowd. We are on high alert but we open up the ramp.”
Torreira adds that it was impossible to see what was happening on the ramp because “it is impossible to see from here,” pointing to the cop cars parked up on the rutted hillside near the section of the band’s impromptu stage.
Wandering all of its 3,200 feet (1 kilometer) between Copacabana and the Atlantic Ocean — a process that some estimate takes up to 20 hours — the parade will nevertheless be the biggest musical event the city has witnessed in a decade. An estimated 550 performers — many of them traveling from distances as far as Brazil’s northeastern state of Sergipe — will perform alongside the 350 members of the country’s National Guards.
Still without solutions
Despite the relatively smooth success of the opening in what will be a marathon of celebrations, Torreira admits that, “There is still a lot to do to make the parade safe. Because the (ratio of drunk people on the streets is) an issue.”
The 2017 Rio Carnival celebration saw over 50 police officers injured by drunk people, and extreme cases of hostility toward police were recorded. While officials have emphasized the fact that the force has put together a plan that is meant to protect every single spectator at this year’s event, some within the police remain unconvinced.
“We received no instructions,” says Pedro Henrique.
After watching this year’s parade unfold on a television inside his shack made out of wood, hickory and bamboo, the 55-year-old veteran police officer is more than skeptical of the band’s ability to mobilize the masses of the Carnival crowd.
“I have worked for 40 years, and I didn’t see many of them on the street,” he says. “I don’t think they are useful. They want to do everything but the parade.”
Neither will Rio resident Catheira Lima Henao. Until last year, she worked at the barge from which the band will be propelled by its gondola. Now, she helps transport supplies along the route. Although she’s eager to see what the youngsters will accomplish at the party — it’s the first time she’s attended since 2011 — she questions why they keep staging these bands in what she sees as an already touristy area.
“We are on public land,” she says. “If they want to move here, we have plenty of land.”